No one can ever accuse Rugby League of being afraid of change. It seems like every season our game changes in one way or another. Whether that be the structure or the rules of the game.
As has become customary at this time of year, with less than a month to go until the new season, the new set of rules for the upcoming season has been released and there are some big changes.
Most of these changes align Super League with the NRL. We’re taking their “tried and tested” methods which seems fairly risk-free.
The shot-clock rule in the NRL has been, by and large, a success down under. In an attempt to speed up the game, and to cut out players feigning injuries, players are given 30 seconds to perform dropouts and 35 seconds to feed scrums.
Only rarely in the NRL do you see a team penalised for failing to stick to the time limit which would suggest that it has succeeded in its task of speeding up play.
But the rules state that if a player is injured prior to the shot clock being started, which doesn’t start immediately after a knock on or the ball being knocked dead, then it won’t start, which could give players an opportunity to stop the clock and take a break by making the most of an injury.
Another big change coming in 2019 is the reduction in the number of interchanges from ten to eight.
This has been done to make the game less about impact and more about attrition. Players will no longer be able to come on and make an impact in a short ten-minute spell and then leave the field. They will instead have to play through the pain barrier and allow fatigue to set in more regularly.
The RFL have stated they want “to introduce more fatigue into the game”, particularly in the latter stages of a game, to open up gaps and make the game more exciting.
More line breaks and tries will, no doubt, make the game more exciting. But this could come at a cost to player welfare.
When players are under fatigue, they are much more likely to sustain an injury whether that be muscular or through impact: High tackles and poor tackling technique become more common when players are tired.
66 percent of players already think the season is too long as seen in Rugby League World’s player poll and making players, on average, play more minutes can’t be helping that.
A proposed move to a two-referee system is also on the cards with the system to be trialled in the academy game in 2019.
The NRL have already had the system since 2009 and it has definitely improved the level of officiating.
As someone who refereed open age games on their own without linesman, this writer can say that looking across the line for players straying offside and trying to police the ruck at the same time is a difficult task.
So to have a referee, whose specific job it is to police the ruck, whilst standing only feet away, can only be a good thing. The system also provides a stepping stone for referees between Championship and being a full Super League referee.
There is little doubt that this system will be in use in 2020 due to its success down under. The year in between is perhaps to prepare enough referees to make the step up to Super League because, at the moment, there aren’t enough top referees to be able to have a two-referee system this year.
The final change has widely split opinion. We’re all familiar with golden-point extra-time with the system already used in the Challenge Cup and in the Super League play-offs but it will now be used in Super League as well.
Many have said that playing golden-point after an enthralling draw turns a game into a field goal-a-thon which is a shame. But there can be no doubting the excitement that golden-point brings. Just think back to 2017 and the semi-final between Castleford Tigers and St Helens.
Changes will always happen in Rugby League, we know that. This crop of rule changes will definitely make the game a better spectacle for viewers, particularly those that are new to Rugby League, which is key.
But doing it to the detriment of the players is worrying.